They might be one of the most common ceremony venues, but churches still tend to throw guests for a loop when it comes to selecting wedding-day attire appropriate for that setting. Depending on the couple’s religious affiliation and the type of church that the ceremony is taking place at, dress codes can vary greatly, so make sure that you’re familiar with the venue and what to expect before you start narrowing down outfits. Below are some key pieces of advice to figure out when planning your fashion for a church wedding.
First and foremost, you’re not going to know what’s appropriate until you know the dress code. A good idea is to check the wedding invitation—along with wedding day details, such as times and locations, you should find guest attire guidelines. For a casual church wedding, this might mean a short-sleeved sundress that hits just below the knee or a relaxed, linen suit. For a more formal affair, formal attire such as a full-length silk gown or black, tailored suit will likely work best. There’s a lot of flexibility within each dress code, but because church weddings call for slightly more modest attire, it’s best to pick something you know would be appropriate over the outfit that might be a little more risque or ostentatious. After all, as a wedding guest, you should not be the center of attention—the bride and groom are.
If you’re feeling at all self-conscious about your wardrobe choices, simplicity is your best friend. Knee-length, minimalist frocks and tailored pantsuits are some of the most straightforward options and work with nearly any dress code. This also means avoiding anything flashy or attention-grabbing (think sparkles, sequins, dramatic hairstyles, and colorful makeup). Though they might be perfectly appropriate for your cousin’s celebration at the Art Institute of Chicago, it’s best to pick something less extravagant for a traditional church ceremony.
Just like with simplicity, sophistication will always work in your favor. This means tailored looks, clean lines and timeless pieces that can be worn again and again. If your love for bright colors and sparkles makes it hard to find something appropriate, consider a sequined clutch or a red crossbody bag. If you love to go wild with accessories, maybe pick a multi-tiered pearl necklace or a stack of gold bangles to go with a simple, navy ensemble. There’s always a way to incorporate personal style with accessories while still abiding by the dress code.
When in doubt, an outfit with more coverage is almost always better at a church ceremony. If you’re opting for a dress, this often means picking a more conservative neckline and hemline. In general, it’s best to avoid styles such as shorts, minidresses, cutouts, plunging necklines, and extremely low backs. There are always exceptions, but in a place of worship, it’s best to play it safe and be as respectful as possible.
If you have the perfect evening dress, but the spaghetti straps make you worried that you’re showing too much skin (or that you’ll be too cold for most of the ceremony), consider bringing a scarf or shawl to cover up, if necessary. Not only is it a stylish accessory, but it gives you the flexibility to wear something that you know you’re already comfortable in, while still abiding by the more modest dress code.
Modest doesn’t have to mean boring, but we understand if understated elegance isn’t necessarily your thing. Longer hems, sleeves, and higher necklines mean more fabric to experiment with, so feel free to show your personality through unexpected colors and textures instead. Consider a velvet wrap dress in olive green or an A-line number with ruffles and billowy sleeves. Play with prints as another way to mix it up. Just make sure that you either pick a bold print in a neutral color or a more subtle print if you’re going with a brighter hue.
As lovely as sleeves may be, you’re not going to be comfortable if it’s a mid-summer wedding and the church doesn’t have air conditioning. It’s always easier to cover up, so try wearing a sleeveless or cap-sleeve dress, and, instead, bringing a sweater, blazer, or shawl. For a winter wedding, consider layering tights with dresses and warm socks with suits. No matter the season, layers are your best friend.
If there’s going to be a reception, chances are that it’s not going to take place at the church. In most cases, the reception falls directly after the wedding, meaning that there’s not a lot of time (if any) to go home and change. If you expect there to be a lot of drinking and dancing, you might decide to bring an extra pair of shoes, or swap out your sweater for a more glitzy blazer. As always, it’s a good idea to keep the venue in mind (and double check to confirm that the dress code is the same).